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Tips for Writing Believable Dialogue

Okay, so you want to write the book of your dreams but are struggling with writing believable dialogue.

Don’t worry, because this is a pitfall many novice authors find themselves in, myself included.

In fact, most of us fail to realize the difference between dialogue and actual conversation.

The first and foremost tip I can give you regarding dialogue is that it’s not real conversation, but pivotal plot points in your work.

For example, early in Northern Knights when Cain and Lira meet for the first time in weeks, it’s a very quick ‘Hello’ and ‘Hey.’

Had I been even more experienced then, I may have even cut those lines.

We don’t any ‘how are you doing’ or anything like that unless it’s going to bring out some important plot elements.

In Northern Knights, this was necessary for that reason as the reader could experience from page one what these two main characters acted like while gaining a firm grasp on their personalities.

But, many novice writers struggle with a term I’ve come across called ‘on the nose writing’ something that Hollywood writers use constantly when novices describe everything as it pertains to real life.

Once again, dialogue can be the same thing and it’s not a good thing.

See, readers don’t care about what these characters have done in their past unless it’s plot-related. Ditto for dialogue.

Why am I going to let Cain and Lira relive the entire summer up by ‘catching up’ unless it’s related to the plot point?

I wouldn’t, and neither should you.

So, listen up and read carefully, because this is going to help you craft the best novel you can and better yet, gain readers.

 

Enter the Scene Late and Leave Early

Remember, the reader is the writer’s partner, which is kind of cool. Reward your reader by not droning through page after page of needless information that isn’t related to the plot.

In other words, both writer and reader should enter a scene only when it’s related to the plot.

Again, during Cain and Lira’s three-hour drive to Ironton in Chapter One, we don’t need to read about their entire convo the whole way over. All we need to know is what is going on in Ironton that is related to the plot and nothing else.

Even if it’s a half-page scene, that’s all you need.

Or, if the character in your book has an appointment Monday and it’s Friday, we don’t need to know about their weekend if nothing happened related to the plot.

The same should go for your dialogue.

Is there a lengthy conversation going on?

Maybe.

But is the entire conversation plot-related?

Unlikely.

So, enter the conversation that is plot-related and exit after all plot-related elements are taken care of.

 

Voices

Give each character their own voice, which I’ve touched up on in previous articles.

For instance, Cain tends to nickname everyone throughout the entire book, swears often, uses a deity’s name in vain constantly, and has a shoot first, ask questions second personality.

Lira places heavy emphasis on words when she speaks, uses clean language, and is short and snappish. Despite the fact she loses her temper at times, she’s often the voice of reason for Cain’s irrationality.

Randelo Jefferson, the mentor, is calm, collected, and at times passive.

Savannah is kind and tends to use complimentary language. Even in the face of trouble, her voice usually gives a bright side.

I can go on forever here, but you get the point. In other words, believable dialogue must make each character unique. If two characters have the same voice, change them or edit one of the two characters out completely. Or, you can merge the characters into one.

 

Dialogue Tagging

Again, dialogue must be believable and flow well. If it’s distracting, then it takes away from the reader’s experience.

For that matter, using a diverse group of tags is going to hurt and not help matters.

When writers use ‘she said’ or ‘he said,’ it should only to clarify who’s speaking.

Some writers think they need to use adverbs to describe a character’s statement or response. Again, it slows down the story. If someone’s angry, show it through action. How do angry people react? Nostrils flaring, object throwing, face turns red, again, you get the gist.

Doesn’t it add to the story more than stating ‘she said angrily?’

Or, what about ‘she pondered,’ ‘he asked,’ ‘she barked,’ ‘he mumbled,’ we can use hundreds of examples.

Again, we’re distracting. Just use action. If someone mutters or mumbles, it’s usually because they’re looking away or speaking with their head down.

If someone shouts, their eyes might narrow or they may throw their arms up.

To make dialogue believable, you need to show rather than tell. Don’t just tell unless your goal is to bore the reader.

 

Conclusion

Dialogue is tricky because a lot of novice writers, something I did once upon a time, think they have to explain everything in every conversation throughout the story.

Hey, I get it. Northern Knights was 214,000 words after its first draft.

I published it at 77,000 words.

It shows how much unnecessary dialogue I used in the book.

A lot of us start off this way before realizing that dialogue is just something that’s part of the story and not a whole conversation.

Again, follow the old ‘get in and get out’ mentality regarding scenes and you’ll do just fine.

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